The fourth game on my college football journey across the country found me in Akron Ohio. Originally, I planned to head down to Athens, Ohio to catch “The” Ohio University game against Buffalo. My plans changed Friday evening while attending a high school football game. I ran into a nice couple whose son was playing for Mentor High. He was going down to Akron the next day on a recruiting trip, and they invited me down to take the journey with them, so I decided to tag along.
HISTORY The Akron Zips became a Division I team and joined the current Football Bowl Subdivision in 1987. During the 2005 season, they won their lone MAC championship. Until 2009, the Zips played all their home games off campus at a site called the Rubber Bowl. That site was replaced by a beautiful new stadium located on campus. This past season, the administration made a bold move, hiring Terry Bowden to take over a program that had gone 2-22 the previous two seasons. He brought 39 years of coaching experience with him, including six years at the helm of North Carolina State. He immediately hired his brother Jeff to help with the offense, and Chuck Amato was hired as the defensive coordinator.
TRADITION The school band. known as “Ohio’s Pride,” performs both before the game and during halftime. The halftime show is concluded with the band playing “Akron Blue and Gold.” In 1927, school officials decided they needed a nickname, and a contest was started to decide what nickname would be adopted by the school. A student named Margaret Hamlin came up with “Zippers,” which was shortened to the “Zips” in 1953. Also in 1953, Zippy the mascot was introduced. Zippy became somewhat famous when he won the 2007 Capital One Mascot Challenge. Zippy is a kangaroo, and a popular t-shirt reads “Fear the Roo.”
THE FANS The fans are extremely revved up about the future of this program. They believe the new stadium and new coaching staff will pay huge dividends down the road. What I noticed was a completely different kind of crowd that you would normally see at bigger university. As I looked around, I noticed that probably half the people in attendance where young kids, with moms and dads bringing their young kids to the game as a family event. Then, after I did the math in my head, I figured it all out. A $15 ticket in general admission allows you to sit anywhere in the upper deck, which runs from one end zone to the other. It was only $5 to park in the parking garage just a few blocks from the stadium. A soda and brat were $7. All that, plus seeing a good FBS football game, for a total of $27 PRICELESS. What a great family activity for a reasonable price on a Saturday afternoon.
THE GAME Akron jumped out to a 10-0 halftime lead in a game that fans thought would be a shootout. The second half saw Bowling Green quarterback Matt Schilz hit Alex Bayer for two touchdown passes on the way to an eventual 24-10 win for the Falcons. After the game, the young man being recruited said, “Man, that Chuck Amato is one intense dude.”